Tatia Pilieva, the filmmaker behind the viral video "First Kiss," just collaborated with U2 to produce a video for their bittersweet single, "You're the Best Thing About Me," off their upcoming album Songs of Experience — and it's guaranteed to make you sob. Pilieva and her team followed four real couples during the final 24-hour period they had together, before one partner had to leave for an extended period of time. We see high-school sweethearts in L.A., a family of Syrian refugees on a tiny Greek island, a young couple in Mexico City, and a military couple, married for only three weeks before one partner is deployed. The couples are diverse and far-flung, but all grappling with the trauma of prolonged and indefinite separation. U2 sought Pilieva out to make the video, which is extremely raw and emotional.
We spoke with Pilieva about her vision for the completely unscripted, completely real project, and her experiences being with couples at their most vulnerable moments.
Refinery29: Most of your videos, like “First Kiss” and “Undress Me,” have featured individuals — usually strangers — coming together. What was the experience and challenge of filming couples coming apart?
Tatia Pilieva: "Originally I tried to think of ways that I could highlight love by bringing people together, but it took me a moment to realize the reverse was more interesting. In the moments we say goodbye and separate, love is more profound. I had an idea on the plane because I had just left my family after my grandmother’s funeral, so I had just said goodbye to so many people I loved. That’s where it hit me.
There were so many challenges from the beginning, in the sense that I wanted to work with all real people, and I had a certain time frame. I was interested in exploring people from different backgrounds, and different reasons for separation. All of that was quite tricky to figure out. And that’s just to get to the moment of the separation happening. Then, once you meet the people, you fall in love with them, and you go through this emotional experience, it’s quite heartbreaking. But at the same time it’s uplifting in the sense that they love each other so you’re witness to that kind of beauty. That is inspiring, but also heartbreaking."
I’ve yet to watch a video of yours without crying. is the process of filming these very emotional as well? Do you become attached to your subjects?
"Of course you do, because it’s humanly impossible not to. By the time you pick the people to be the subject, in some ways, you’re in love with them already. You’re in your own way saying goodbye to them as well. As much as I was trying to be a fly in the wall and not disrupt their lives, I was still right there. I’d always stay with the ones who stayed behind, because that’s even harder. The last shots [of the video] are the people who were left behind. That moment when it really sinks in is probably the hardest, harder than the moments of the actual goodbye."
Can you tell us the process of filming?
"It was 24 hours exactly for each couple. Once we found the subjects, we’d find out their departure dates and ask if we could be there 24 hours prior to the moment of saying goodbye, and film the actual goodbye. It was identical to all four. I wanted to be fair about the amount of time that each one of them received, even though how they said goodbye was so different. Each shoot was very unique, not just for me but for the small team that was with me. We were trying to keep ourselves together, and not collapse ourselves. I’ve stayed in touch with everyone and checked in to make sure they’re all okay. They’re probably so curious to see what I put together."
How are the couples doing now?
"I think it’s challenging to be on your own, and to have said goodbye to a loved one. But I think they’re all strong individuals and trying their best to be well. Because these were not breakups in the traditional sense, they were just goodbyes, somewhere in there it's still nice to know that you’re loved. No matter how much you love each other, sometimes life just separates us. We’ve all had some experience of it."
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